Martini Madness with a Twist

To the uninformed eye, it's just another routine Saturday afternoon gathering at the Hilton, Woodland Hills. Everyone is dolled up in their festive finest, and there is a giant roast beef spread that perhaps a medieval feast would be jealous of.

Maybe someone has just tied the knot. Maybe a large family is reuniting to celebrate the beginning of fall. The gentle lilting keyboard is inviting, but couldn't possibly suggest to the curious wandering listener, what magic is fitting to take place in this downstairs ballroom nestled unassumingly in the hotel's lobby.

A room that buzzes with care, fellowship, understanding, and love, is a different sort of room to find oneself in. When friendly but aloof greetings, small-talking smiles, and casual courtesy are the usual expected currency of hotel ballroom events, today all familiarities are tossed aside to invite long hugs, warmhearted introductions, and an air of profound tenderness. It is one thing to be at just another Saturday afternoon gathering. It is quite another thing entirely to be a part of Parkinson's Resource Organization's (PRO) 2nd Annual Martini Madness.

Parkinson's Resource Organization, a non-profit, tax-exempt, charitable organization, was founded in 1990 by entrepreneurial spirit, Jo Rosen. Rosen personally felt the debilitating effect of Parkinson's when her mother was diagnosed with the incurable disease in 1984, and her husband, Alan, was later diagnosed in 1989. As many as one million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease. Rosen has become a guru of sorts to the local community of people living with and affected by Parkinson's, which is an overwhelmingly high percent of the population, a statistic that most of us have turned a blind eye to.

PRO's Martini Madness narrator, and actor of Doogie Howser fame, Larry Pressman, says, "It can happen to anyone. It can happen at any age...If you talk to most people today, almost anyone knows a person affected by the disease...It just seems to always be in the air."

Pressman, whose father and two brothers were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, introduced the event's speakers, each contributing to the undeniable theme, "Faces of Parkinson's". He stood behind each person presenting with a tangible sense of power, and understanding, not unlike that of a protective father figure.

Each speaker did indeed illustrate and press forward with their own unique face of Parkinson's. Bill Barnard, diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1999 says, "As the symptoms progress, you need to have something to keep your sanity, keep your family together...My team consists of myself, my family, and Parkinson's Resource Organization."

Another distinctive aspect of what PRO has to offer, are its support group meetings specifically designated to caregivers of people with Parkinson's. These caregivers are the real life heroes that selflessly endure the disease's constant trials in order to help their loved ones cope and live to their fullest extent.

Tad Nelson, a physical therapist for Parkinson's patients, and regular speaker at PRO's caregiver meetings, lost his grandfather to the disease only four years after his initial diagnosis. "If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot care for others," says Nelson. This is just one reason why Yvonne Newton, who cares for her mother with Parkinson's, attends meetings. She says, "Just when I feel that I can't do it anymore, not one more second, I try to remember that I'm not alone."

This is exactly why this Saturday afternoon gathering proves to be different than all the rest that have graced the Hilton ballroom before it. It is more than just a hearty assemblage of patrons sipping fancy martinis and enjoying each other's company. It is truly a spectacle of fellowship that proves beyond the confines of your average fundraiser, and stands to prove to Newton and everyone else affected by Parkinson's disease, that they are genuinely, and quite sincerely, not alone.

Elizabeth Kane, 15-year veteran volunteer of PRO, says goodbye as the guests retire for the evening, each one wanting to leave less than the next. She smiles knowingly, assuredly, and says, "You'll be back. You couldn't ask for a better place to be involved."